Bacon on the Bookshelf

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Girlfriends in the Time of Corona: Jessi Baker & Dallas Wilt

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I thought I might run an occasional series on Girlfriends in the Time of Corona – I’ve been missing mine! I’m delighted that Jessi Baker and Dallas Wilt will lead us off! They’ve got some seriously good energy on a Monday morning…

Hi Dallas and Jessi! Old friendships are essential – absolutely essential – but it seems to me important to have room in your heart for new friends too. When did you meet?

Dallas: Jessi’s daughter joined my daughter’s class last year and we met through their friendship.

Jessi: We moved here a couple years ago during the construction of a business we opened downtown. We have three kids, in three different schools, and our middle daughter is in class with Dallas’ youngest. They became fast friends and that led me to Dallas!

How did you get to know each other?

Dallas: In addition to myriad communications about driving our daughters from point A to point B, we met over lunch at True Foods for a “deeper dive.” I loved learning about her family, her passions, her business and the really cool projects she’s working on.

Jessi: We go to the same church, and with our daughters being friends and playing a couple sports together, our paths kept crossing. Finally, we went to lunch and discovered we have a lot in common!

What do you find interesting about each other?

Dallas: We immediately bonded over a shared family history in Gatlinburg. My great aunts and uncles owned hotels there and her family ran a candy business that I loved visiting when I traveled there as a child.

There is so much to love about Jessi; it’s hard to know where to begin. She’s whip smart, incredibly kind, and very generous. I love her entrepreneurial spirit and no-fear attitude.

Jessi: I’ve been impressed with Dallas since I met her. She’s one of those people who draws you in and just seems to have it all together (in her case, she really does, which makes her a real inspiration for other women). She’s a vibrant force in the community, making things happen, and contributing to groups and causes that matter. I also think you can tell a lot about someone by their children, and Dallas’ girls really are the best – interesting, well-spoken, sweet and smart people. I’m impressed by her whole family’s kindness.

How are you staying connected now?

Dallas: Before Corona hit, I told Jessi that I would host a gathering to introduce her to some more of the 7th-grade moms. There are several new families that have joined the grade this past year and I was really looking forward to connecting everyone. Sadly “7th-grade moms gathering” is just sitting there on my electronic checklist, along with 50 other things that are waiting for the world to reopen. It’s definitely going to happen, but I might have to change the name to “8th-grade moms gathering” before it does. Boo. In the meantime, we’ve texted to check on each other; she knows I’m here if she needs anything.

Jessi: In the time of Covid-19, I’m kind of all over the place. I find myself reaching out to friends and family in a more deliberate way. Somedays it might just be texts to check in and say hello, but I’ve also made calls more frequently to my mom and sisters. When I have time, I love to dive into a book. I feel like there are no rules during this time (other than taking care of yourself and being as gentle as possible with your family), but my friends definitely know that if they need me, I’m here.

How has your work changed in the Time of Corona?

Dallas: Hmmm…”work” is an interesting word. The last time I “worked” for pay was exactly 10 years ago. My “work” over the last 10 years has been in the non-profit world. Over the last 12 months, I rolled off all non-profit boards in an effort to spend some time soul searching for my next gig. The Time of Corona has brought me much unanticipated “work”. It all started with the tornadoes that took a toll on Fleming’s business.

I tried to go down to Germantown to be helpful, but the project was a little bigger than I anticipated. So, I’ve just worked as a cheerleader in the wings on that one. Shortly thereafter, my brother crashed a hangglider in Florida and broke his back, so I spent much of the first few weeks of Corona as a nurse, physical therapist, insurance consultant and travel agent. He needed a cheerleader too.

“My flight home from Florida after my brother was released from the hospital. Two pilots, two flight attendants, two passengers. Very weird.”

I got back to Nashville in time to become a home-schooler, WiFi technician, chef, dog groomer, quarantine sweet-16 event planner, Monopoly player and, I guess, a cheerleader.

My best work, though, has been done in the last few weeks, as I help my parents downsize. During this project, I have dabbled in the following professions: real estate broker, tax accountant, electrician, estate planner, dumpster filler, interior designer, heavy box hauler, and, yes, a cheerleader. Oh, and with this last round of storms, I can add sump pump expert and plumber to the list. I can’t say I’ve had much time to soul search for my next gig, but I know one thing – I’ve got a TON of bandwidth! If you need something done, I’m your gal. Seriously, I’m going to need something to do when this is all over. Maybe the Titans are looking for a new cheerleader.

Jessi: In the realm of Ole Smoky and Yee-Haw Brewing, it’s been a mixed bag. One of the most rewarding parts of our business has been the ability to pivot our focus to producing hand sanitizer, which we then put directly into the hands of our local first responders and non-profits. And that’s been rewarding not just for Joe and me, but also for our staff who are working as fast as they can to produce as much as possible because they know it’s needed – it helps us all to have a greater purpose in these uncertain times. We always try to be engaged with community needs and projects, but we’ve found several opportunities during this crisis to help others in ways that make you proud to be part of such a great team.

What are you reading, watching or listening to?

Dallas: See above… all I am reading right now are insurance policies, real estate contracts and requirements for my daughter to get her license as soon as the DMV reopens (what a nightmare!) Sitting patiently on my bedside table is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

My book club is reading it, though we’ve had to postpone our meeting several times. I doubt I’ll get through many of its 500 pages before we get back together again, but I’m sure I’ll be forgiven. Honestly, I’m really having a hard time focusing on anything fictional at the moment, as reality and realty have hijacked my brain. I did make it through Calypso by David Sedaris, because the essays are easily digestible and, gosh, he makes me laugh!

I’m enjoying introducing my children to movies I liked when I was their age. Some have resonated with them and some have not. I’m also tuning into The New York Times Daily podcast when I’m in the car.

Jessi: Right now I’m totally absorbed by “The Last Dance”. I love basketball so much – I played through high school and then ended up rowing in college. To relive that 97-98 Bulls season is just so interesting. I’m loving it!!

I watched an episode or two of Tiger King, but all that craziness hit a little too close to home, so I had to look away, haha.

I’ve been reading a ton, but my favorite this past month was The Name of the Wind Series by Patrick Rothfuss. I’m a Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones book fan, and this series fits well into that epic fantasy category. I’m nearing the end of the second book, and I can’t bring myself to finish it because he hasn’t released the third book yet. Come on, Mr. Rothfuss, give us something new during quarantine!!

We’re a family that is always listening to music. We’ve made a Corona playlist and the following songs are all on it: It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over, Lenny Kravitz; Stand Back, Stevie Nicks; It’s the End of the World As We Know It, REM; Strange Overtones, David Byrne; Things Have Changed, Bob Dylan; Waiting in Vain, Bob Marley; Mama Tried, Merle Haggard; In Spite of Ourselves, John Prine; Rainbowland, Miley Cyrus & Dolly Parton.

Biggest success in the kitchen? Biggest failure?

Dallas: The biggest success I’ve had in the kitchen during this time is actually getting out of the kitchen and letting my daughters experiment with cooking. They take turns preparing a meal for the family every week and I think that has been a good exercise for them. The waffle kabobs they made were particularly tasty. My biggest failure is making the same stuff over and over again. My daughters’ creativity in the kitchen has inspired me to take a few more risks going forward.

Jessi: I’m doing my best to cook interesting, different dinners nightly, and to me, the variation is an accomplishment! We planted an early season garden this year that’s started to contribute to our daily meals and takes a few items off the grocery list.

The biggest failure was a mushroom and spinach pasta that tasted great, but looked like slime/sludge. I got the idea that since my kids don’t love mushrooms, I’d blend them and make them “invisible” – well, it didn’t work out as planned!!

Making pizza dough in an online enrichment class from Oak Hill elementary

What has surprised you in the Time of Corona? What have you learned about yourself?

Dallas: Normally, I love structure. I love calendars and to-do lists. I thrive on packed schedules and checking things off. I’ve been amazed at how easily I’ve adapted to having so much unstructured time and to crossing things off my calendar and lists, not because they got done, but because time simply passed, and, you know what, they weren’t really that important anyway. I’m quite certain my post-Corona calendar is going to look a lot different than it did before. And that is a gift. Thank you, Corona! My vernacular has also changed. “Meh”, “Who cares?” and “Whatever” have crept into my vocabulary. I also find myself using the term “sh#t show” daily, and appropriately so. I don’t think I’m alone on that one.

Jessi: The biggest surprise happened about a week into the quarantine – my husband Joe began a serious conversation about running for Congress in our home district in East Tennessee. Since our college days in Washington D.C., politics and public service have been a passion for us. After weeks of conversations with old friends and new friends we decided the timing wasn’t quite right. Between family and business, we’ve got a few more years before we can commit to full time public service. It was a good exercise in soul searching and personal reflection. I believe we will plow that ground in due course, but for now we’ll remain focused on raising kids and re-energizing our businesses after a tough couple of months.

Hiking during quarantine

What’s the worst thing about the Time of Corona? The best?

Dallas: The worst thing has been canceling (or postponing) all of the things we were excited about for our girls: 16th birthday parties, dance concerts, lacrosse season, tennis season, field day, driver’s license, first trip to Europe, service trips, summer camp. Early in the Time of Corona, the disappointments were racking up quickly, and it was hard to keep delivering the bad news. The best thing has been the family teamwork that has been engendered during this time, both with my children and my parents. In “normal” times, there is no way I would have been able to help my parents as much with their move. I wouldn’t trade the precious time I’ve been able to spend with them over these last few weeks, looking at old family albums and things that belonged to my grandparents and great grandparents. The Time of Corona has given us just that: time. And it is precious.

Jessi: Worst – The inability to socialize in a meaningful way. I really want to go to lunch, or to dinner, grab drinks, or go to a live yoga class. I need to be able to talk and be present with people in the community. I miss my friends.

Best – I’m really getting to know my kids and husband, and shocker – MYSELF!! I thought I knew us before, but I really know us now, and I hope that leads us on all sorts of fun adventures once we can get back out into the big wide world.

What’s your advice for people trying to stay sane in the Time of Corona?

Dallas: Take advantage of the time with your family, but recognize when it’s time for everyone to retreat to their corners. Personally, I’m trying to stay sane by playing the piano a lot. Music has always been a great healer for me.

Jessi: I think a combination of reading, resting, and exercise is my special sauce. That, in addition to talking with my siblings or friends when I need to connect, makes this whole quarantine time doable, and sometimes even fun and enjoyable. Joe and I have been doing a virtual yoga class every day at noon with our favorite teacher from Colorado (we lived there for a year while we were releasing a whiskey a few years back). It has been amazing and so grounding and important to connect with that virtual community.

I think I’ve read about 40 books in 60 days? Not kidding – it’s all I seem to accomplish.

Reading by the fire…

Let’s wrap up with a few speed dating questions…

Favorite song in the Time of Corona?
Dallas: My Sharona…I swear I am hearing it everywhere, now.
Jessi: Ahhh since I gave so many above I’m going to go with another on our corona playlist. TIME, Pink Floyd.

Favorite time of day?
Dallas: I’m enjoying the sixes. 6:00 AM is when everyone else is asleep, including the dog, and I can power through e-mails uninterrupted. 6:00 PM is when Fleming and I meet on the front porch to look at the cows across the street, enjoy a cocktail and discuss the day. In “normal” times, we’d be rushing to and from the girls’ extracurricular activities and our own scheduled events. I’ll delightedly return to that mode when allowed, but I will really miss our prolonged evening porch chats.


Jessi:
I LOVE my new mornings. There’s no mandatory wake up time, and no immediacy to get anywhere. So the freedom of having a day that’s all yours is really nice. Multiply that by day 55 of corona and it’s also a little bit like that scene in “Groundhog Day” where the alarm clock rings and it’s just another day, over and over again. Oh well, maybe cocktail hour would have been a better choice!!

Most annoyed by…
Dallas: My seeming inability to read a book during this time.
Jessi: I have a list a mile long – and I’m not doing any of it. All I do is cook, read, and exercise. I thought I could use this time for progress and growth, and maybe inwardly I am, but in things you can actually measure, like the “important” bullets on my list – nothing is happening! I’m trying to be gentle and accepting about that, because I sure am enjoying my freedom from said list.

Darkest thought…
Dallas: I worry about my parents’ health with this virus. They say they are not scared, but I’m scared enough for all of us.
Jessi: My sister is a doctor working in the ER in a busy Charlotte hospital – I worry for her and so many others on the front lines of our healthcare system. My parents are older, and they are incredibly concerned about the effects this virus has on people above 75. That is tough for me as a daughter and as a sister because I can’t be there physically to offer comfort and companionship.

Most encouraged by…
Dallas: My children’s resilience and the spirit of the Nashville community. Also, the smile on my daughter’s face, when her sweet friends surprised her with a drive-by parade on her birthday.

Jessi: I love my daily texts with a few different people where we trade anything from news articles to funny memes to crazy pictures of our kids. I don’t know why this buoys my spirit so much, but information is power, and even more importantly, so is laughter.

Wearing a mask?
Dallas: I wear one at the grocery store, but not when I’m outside generally.
Jessi: I am wearing a mask to any public place like the grocery store or Lowes, but not while outside exercising. I got an email from one of my favorite yoga studios asking if we had a mask preference for class, assuming we get to come back this summer, and honestly, I can’t imagine exercising with a mask at all, so I don’t know how far I’ll be able to take my mask wearing!

Level of anxiety on a daily basis, 1-10? Level of peace/acceptance?
Dallas: I think those can successfully co-exist, so I’d rate myself about a 7 on the anxiety scale and a 7 on the peace/acceptance scale.
Jessi: Anxiety for me is 6ish; Peace is 4ish

Most looking forward to:
Dallas: That 7th, er, 8th-grade moms gathering, because that means everything else is back to some semblance of normal too. I miss my friends and my children miss theirs. I’d also have to say “summer” because on-line school seems pretty stressful for the students and the teachers. I feel for all of them.
Jessi: For my kids, I look forward to school and sports. They’ve adapted well and handled the past couple months with a lot of grace for their young ages, but they miss their friends and teachers and coaches. Personally, I want to go sit at a bar with my girlfriends and have a glass of wine and order food that someone else will cook and bring to me. That would be divine!

It absolutely would, Jessi!

Thank you for stopping in today, friends. You cheer me. xoxo

3 Comments

  1. I’ve long appreciated the wisdom of Dallas. And while I’ve never met Jessi, the bottles of Ole Smoky on my bar make me feel like a friend. Great interview!

  2. I so enjoyed this interview – good to hear your voice, Dallas, and to meet Jessi. Your thoughts and experiences during the pandemic lock down echo many of mine.

  3. So enjoyed this conversation! Dallas, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is and has always been my very favorite book. And like you, I’m having a very hard time reading. But hang in there with that one Health and safety to all❤️

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